Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Delahunt, Biden and Obama’s Contradictive Public Diplomacy in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 6 July 2010 12:30

The contradiction in the Obama administration’s public diplomacy in Iraq is encapsulated in a recent letter to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki from Congressman Bill Delahunt and signed by some 30 other members of the US congress, mostly Democrats. In it, they congratulate the Iraqi electorate for having voted en masse for what is described as the two “cross-community” lists in Iraq, Iraqiyya led by Ayad Allawi and State of Law (SLA) headed by Nuri al-Maliki. That is just about right: Both Iraqiyya and SLA started out as non-sectarian projects, and although they both ended up looking more sectarian (leaning Sunni and Shiite respectively) thanks to de-Baathification, there was no doubt that the pressures towards sectarian repolarisation came from the other parties. Those other, sub-identity-oriented parties, in turn, did a lot worse: The Iraqi National Alliance and the Kurdistan Alliance could manage only around 115 seats altogether, which is markedly less than the 180 seats shared by Iraqiyya and State of Law.

So, having correctly taken note of this important distinction, the congressmen presumably go on to recommend that the two cross-community lists join each other in a strong alliance? Alas, this is where the logic stops. The letter from Delahunt goes on to talk about a “national unity” government and while in theory this could have meant just Allawi and Maliki, the accompanying press release makes it perfectly clear that the US politicians want Maliki to include all the “winning coalitions”. In other words, they want to add the “retrograde” sectarian lists (their implicit judgment) to the “progressive” cross-sectarian ones (ditto) in government! What a remarkable way of reasoning this is:  “Even though you brave Iraqis clearly prefer a non-sectarian government, we, fat-cat congressmen in Washington feel a little uneasy about that prospect. You see, certain highbrow think tank types over here who just recently did a terrific crash course on Iraq keep telling us that in order to avoid a complete unravelling of the situation we must also include the straw men of Masud Barzani and Ammar al-Hakim in the government. Oh, yes, we know those two are the authors of many of the problems in Iraq over the past five years including the silly idea of a Shiite sectarian region and the purge of most competent bureaucrats from the machinery of the state in the name of de-Baathification but you see these men are very important, and if they feel ever so slightly unhappy things could go seriously wrong. So it does not really matter what the electorate said about cross-community dreams; unfortunately you will just have to put up with another dysfunctional, incompetent and weak government in Iraq for the next five years. We really do hope you may understand our concerns.”

And unfortunately, this is precisely the message Biden has been pushing publicly in Iraq during the weekend. After having held his cards tight to his chest on his first day, some worrisome signs were beginning to emerge after the visit to Ammar al-Hakim early Monday. According to an ISCI statement, Biden had “conveyed the respect of President Barack Obama to Ammar al-Hakim and his praise for ISCI’s role in bringing about rapprochement between the Iraqi parties [!] in order to form a government of real partnership of all Iraqi factions…” Of course, this was an ISCI press release and it could have been suspected of perhaps bending the message a little to fit the party’s own agenda. But shortly afterwards, Biden himself spoke to the media, and there it was: “In my humble opinion, in order for you to achieve your goals you must have all communities’ voices represented in this new government, proportionately… Iraqiyya, State of Law, Iraqi National Alliance, the Kurdistan Alliance, all are going to have to play a meaningful role in this new government for it to work”. In fact, the basic idea of including “all the winning lists” was also conveyed during the meeting with Maliki on Sunday according to his spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

This is the Paul Bremer fallacy repeated. It just seems America will never pass ontological puberty in Iraq: Even as they celebrate non-sectarian tendencies they still want to make sure all the sectarian parties are in there, disregarding that the Kurds have actually already been empowered locally through federalism and the fact that Shiites and Sunnis clearly dislike the idea of enshrining sectarian identity at the level of the state. The element of proportionality, in turn, is of course a veritable cave-in to the Iranian agenda in Iraq – Tehran has openly argued in favour of a “strong Shiite-led government” of the kind Biden’s formula will produce if it succeeds. No one should be surprised though, since Biden previously spoke glowingly about the idea of “bringing in the region” in Iraq, and has been unable to move beyond the paradigm of “Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds” ever since he was charged with the Iraq portfolio by Obama.

Even more worryingly, with respect to the practical aspect Biden repeated his own past mistake of not reading the Iraqi constitution properly. For a long time back in 2007 he thought there were constitutional mechanisms in place that could easily produce his preferred vision of a tripartite Iraq of three ethno-sectarian regions. Only gradually did he realise that the federalisation law passed in October 2006 is a lot more complex and if activated can produce countless scenarios, with the tripartite one being one of the least probable. And so this time, he wants four parties in government. But in 2010, does he realise that if the constitution is followed, the chances of getting his four preferred ones into government are actually quite small? And that if it does succeed, it is likely to take a lot more time than most other scenarios? What Biden does not appear to understand is that Iraqiyya will disintegrate in an oversized government where they are not given the premiership and that Maliki is unlikely to go quietly if there are attempts by other Shiites to use his votes while at the same time marginalising him as premier candidate (did Biden even notice that relations between SLA and INA deteriorated to a new low in the middle of his visit?) Absent any rewriting of the constitution, the particular four-way alliance preferred by Biden is actually a rather unlikely outcome, no matter how much some Iraqi politicians may pay lip service to the idea.

Curiously enough, Iraqi newspapers keep publishing rumours about “secret” American support for rapprochement between Allawi and Maliki. If such a thing exists behind the scenes but within the overall context of a four-party unity-government scenario, then it is hardly sensational. If on the other hand these rumours really relate to US backing of a bilateral Iraqiyya-SLA alliance, then it is at variance with everything the Obama administration says publicly about Iraq. That kind of double game would be uncharacteristic of Obama, and for Iraqi politicians who favour that scenario it is time to realise that it is first and foremost they themselves who must turn it into reality.

36 Responses to “Delahunt, Biden and Obama’s Contradictive Public Diplomacy in Iraq”

  1. Well said Reidar.
    The worst mistake is for Biden to express his “humble” opinion that sharing should be made proportionately.. This may be intuitive logic and bides well with minds new to democracy but in fact it makes it difficult if not impossible to reach consensus or to achieve accountability, effectively shooting the US policy in the foot and making democracy dysfunctional.
    Joe Biden’s visit is a cop up to Iran’s policy with a bonus.

  2. Jason said

    The Obama/Biden policy is to get the hell out of Iraq as fast as possible, without it falling completely apart, in order to appease their pacifist/isolationist base and return focus to buying American votes with domestic giveaway programs. They will support whatever they believe will help them get out the fastest, regardless whether it is the best thing for Iraq. They are such appeasers that they would even give the Iranian proxies a chunk of the new Iraqi govt – so long as they are able to get out.

  3. Jason said

    IMO, Obama believes that a “unity govt” would provide him with the greatest insurance that Iraq will not slip back into civil war as he makes his escape. It also provides him with the greatest political cover because he can plausibly blame Iraqis for any failure of the next govt to make any new progress. Obama doesn’t care what happens in Iraq as long as he can escape without suffering any serious political damage.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, the second of your comments above resonates with what I hear from people in Washington.

    I am wondering whether the McChrystal syndrome might manifest itself among US officers serving in Iraq, where many of them after all have worked hard in the belief that they were helping getting the country back on track. But then again, I held the overly optimistic view that Biden rather than McChrystal would face the axe as the result of the Rolling Stone revelations, which after all basically spoke the truth about Biden’s capabilities!

  5. Jason said

    I agree. My military friends are extremely upset that McChrystal was let go. Even though they feel tied down and suffer more casualties under the restrictive Rules of Engagement designed to protect civilians, they still praise him as one of their best leaders.

  6. Ali W said

    What I have noticed from my readings is that all iraqi political parties are talking about including the “winners”. Even INM and SLA, both say if they get the first shot at forming the government, they would include everyone.

    Therefore what differnce would there be if INM and SLA join together, they will still include KA and INA. The only differnce is that SLA and INM will get the tastier portfolios.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    They say that some of the time, but increasingly there is an awareness that they need not do it, and some of the time there is talk of purely bilateral scenarios. The other day, Salih al-Mutlak advocated the two big blocs in some kind of alliance with the Kurds.

  8. Ali W said

    just to prove my point, look at the youtube video, Issawi states that all agree on forming a NU goverment (national unity)

  9. Ali W said

    Reidar I see, you might be right, if SLA and INM do form an alliance, they might make an offer to INA and KA that might not be acceptable, and therefore NU gov would not be formed.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Again, you would expect Rafi al-Eisawi to say such a thing. His faction represents about 10 seats within Iraqiyya and he has been quite prominent in the previous dialogue with ISCI and the Kurds and he is probably not going to be the first to announce any change.

  11. Ali W said

    Sorry for posting so many articles, but this is major news, right?? This could be really big and the beginning of what we have all hoped for.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, thanks, the link just won’t publish properly at WordPress, but it’s the third top story on Sharqiya right now.

    Anyway, the news that SLA and INA broke off contact came yesterday night; it is interesting that Dabbagh now seems to put the continued negotiations with Iraqiyya on par with the previous ones with INA. Earlier, they had in fact said they would turn to Iraqiyya if INA should prove difficult in the premiership question and when INA renewed their opposition to Maliki yesterday I guess this was a natural move. And a positive one, I agree.

  13. JWing said

    Whether SLA and INA or SLA and INM form an alliance doesn’t really matter, there will be the same deadlock as long as SLA insists on Maliki being the PM again. Do you think Allawi will be any more willing to compromise on that issue than the INA? I think not.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    The smaller the alliance, the more the premier has to offer to the side that did not get the premiership…

  15. Ali W said

    Thats true, Maliki can offer a lot more to INM if he only needs to ally with INM. For example he can offer the juicy ministries to the leaderships in INM to force allawi to accept Maliki and the PM.

  16. Jason said

    Joel, I think you are overlooking the most important stumbling block to anyone allying with INA, which is whether Sadr’s minions in the Mahdi Army will be turned lose to de facto rule of the streets. With INA, it is not as simple as agreeing on a PM. This ceases to be an issue if SLA allies with INM. So, there is a huge difference.

  17. Ali W said

    Jason, I really think the days of the mahdi army are over, they would only return if the security takes a turn for the worse and the shia start getting killed in their hundreds. If that happens, even I would want them to return to protect the shia if the government cant. And I doubt it will.

    A for them being a part of the government, i think that if they start acting funny again, they will just be forced to out like what happened to them in the last government, and the Iraqi police and army is much stronger now, and they are much weaker than before.

    As for Dabbagh, he is one of the most loyal men Maliki has, because is scammer and corrupt, and everyone dislikes him. His only chance of survival is for Maliki to remain prominent.

    He claims he has a PHD in the “studies of the Hawza” lol, I wonder what university has this course.

  18. Salah said

    As for Dabbagh, he is one of the most loyal men Maliki has, because is scammer and corrupt, and everyone dislikes him. His only chance of survival is for Maliki to remain prominent…..He claims he has a PHD in the “studies of the Hawza” lol, I wonder what university has this course.

    Iraq had a tyrant regime with men like with ICE saler with a small Police officer combined with a bench of illiterate folks they were loyal to the Tyrant.

    So now days not much different only we had folk with PhD, or some form of fake certificates that sold on the curb of the Sadar city streets.

  19. Salah said

    One question here we don’t know the answer for it.

    Why Biden keep jump to Iraq each time? What credentials he had that promote him to be for this mission?

    Why Obama believe and keep sending same man each time to Iraq?

    Any one has answers that meaning for these ties of Obama/Biden and Iraq?

  20. Reidar Visser said

    I think it is commonly agreed that the idea of giving the Iraq portfolio to Biden came from Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

  21. Salah said

    Biden came from Rahm Emanuel

    Is he teaching Biden what to do in Iraq? Is that come from his personal/ family experiences in Israel? As he serviced to the Israel Defense Forces and pro-Israel slant

    Let read few things here :

    he also is the son of a terrorist–by British standards as he served in irgun with menachem begin (recall begin was wanted as a terrorist by the British for bombing the British headquarters of the king David hotel–wanted poster above). or just check out their own crest showing a map in the background that includes all of Palestine and Jordan.

    Or let read from his book “The plan: big ideas for America

    The Plan offers a bold vision of what America can be. It shows the way for both parties to move beyond the old political arguments and make progress for the American people. And it offers an innovative agenda for America – with ideas that address the nation’s most pressing challenges by doing more for Americans and asking Americans to do more for their country in return. Each of these ideas offers a clean break with the status quo, yet all are positive, practical, and can be put into action right away. Built on the authors’ firm beliefs that politicians owe the people real answers, that citizenship is a responsibility, not an entitlement program, and that the Democratic Party succeeds when America succeeds, the highly anticipated Plan delivers, challenges, and inspires.

    The plan:big ideas for America
    By Rahm Emanuel, Bruce Reed

    Wonder which “citizenship is a responsibility” he speaking about in his book, is it his Israeli one or US one?

    So these newish news expected him to quit White House. is that means Biden no longer to be Iraq mandate after he leaving or the dose secure the right man for the right mission of his heart feelings?

  22. Salah said

    BTW, another US/Iraq fuger prepaired to move:
    Chris Hill named dean

  23. Jason said

    Picking a VP running mate is the first and possibly most important decision that a U.S. Presidential contender makes. Biden was sold to us as a “foreign policy expert” who was supposed to pick up the slack for Obama’s glaring weakness. Biden has not fared well – in conservative crowds he is viewed as a buffoon – but letting him go now, or even locking him in a closet, would be a HUGE admission of bad judgment at the highest level, with serious negative political consequences for Obama. So I assume that Rahm keeps sending Biden out there to try to burnish his image for domestic political reasons.

  24. Salah said

    his own past mistake of not reading the Iraqi constitution properly. For a long time back in 2007 he thought there were constitutional mechanisms in place that could easily produce his preferred vision of a tripartite Iraq of three ethno-sectarian regions.

    This not his mistake as such, it’s believe within US administration and figures of soft partitioning of Iraq. This is long term gaol.
    Just wait to see things foldout and been a reality unless some miracles happen.

  25. Salah said

    Apologies for the broken link, here the right one. Please delete the previous comment.

    Ben Lando: What is your take on post-election, pre-government-formation Iraq?

    Zalmay Khalilzad: I think this election was a success. A positive step, a positive evolution in Iraqi politics. The level of violence was low. The level of participation was acceptable and the Iraqis voted in a less sectarian manner than in the previous election. The two leading parties, one is clearly a secular, non-sectarian, cross-sectarian party of Ayad Allawi that did very well. At the same time Prime Minister Maliki’s party (Dawlat Al-Qanoon) also presented itself as non-sectarian, cross-sectarian and it did very well as well. Of course still most Shia voted for Shia parties and most Sunnis voted for Iraqiya, but nevertheless it shows evolution in the attitudes of the people.

    Prime Minister Maliki’s party (Dawlat Al-Qanoon) also presented itself as non-sectarian,

    Yep… non-sectarian they are Da’awa party faction

    Prime Minister Maliki’s party (Dawlat Al-Qanoon) also presented itself as non-sectarian,

    Yep… non-sectarian they are Da’awa part faction

  26. Jason said

    This is no Israeli plot – just a clumsy attempt by an overwhelmed Obama Administration to try to save political face rather than owning up to having picked a goofball for VP. Unfortunately, Biden will probably remain even if Rahm were to leave. It would be next to impossible for Obama to fire Biden without also seriously damaging himself in the process.

  27. Reidar Visser said

    There is a curious piece at Foreign Policy in which an unnamed Obama official tries to suggest that Biden pushed for no particular configuration of parties during his visit. Well, if they cannot even read their own speeches… The fact is that the four-party constellation highlighted by Biden is both a specific and a particularly unworkable one.

  28. I don’t claim that I have direct knowledge but I understand that Biden’s honesty played an important role in selecting him for VP. I sympathise withan honest politician and believe that being honest and politician is not a contradictory term. But a man in Biden’s position should listen to his advisors.
    Obama’s presidency came as a breath of fresh air after Bush, I thought finally US foreign policy will not be reactionary. In my view what is missing in US-Iraq policy is connecting the dots between what happens in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan, these three flashpoints should be viewed as interconnected otherwise all the US can do is react to small events and be guided by Israeli fearmongering.

  29. Jason said

    Other than sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate for many years, Biden was previously known for being accused of plagiarism and for popping off at the mouth from time to time with bizarre, inappropriate statements.

    Obama beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries for Democratic Party candidate because of strong support from the pacifist/isolationist wing of the party. They are now screaming for payback in the form of withdrawing completely from ANY foreign entanglements. Obama is trying to mollify them by getting out of Iraq ASAP, while trying to do the minimum not to lose in Afghanistan.

  30. Jason said

    This article was probably written by an Obama/Biden staffer before Biden was even deployed, and demonstrates the purpose of the Biden visit: to create the impression of competence where none exists. Read the first comment below the article. It’s hilarious.

  31. bks said

    Yes Biden is a buffoon, but you couldn’t find ten Republicans who have
    mentioned Iraq other than realists like Dana Rohrbacker who recently
    called the US invasion a “horrible mistake” and “criminal”.

    As far as Twitterus americanus is concerned, Petraeus strode into
    Baghdad, kicked ass and won the war.

    I doubt most Americans could find Iraq on a map if you spotted them
    Kuwait and Turkey, let alone read the constitution.


  32. Salah said

    More on Joe Biden and where does he stand?

    He supported the war in Iraq, but now believes that was a mistake. He thinks Iraq should be partitioned and supports a plan to remove our troops from Iraq.

    He believes troops should be deployed to Sudan. He is highly supportive of Israel. He is pro-choice, but is opposed to government funding abortions. He supports civil unions for homosexuals, and is opposed to privatization of welfare.

    Now don’t you feel a little more informed about him?

  33. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, I don’t think those quotes are particularly informative. In fact, most characterisations of Biden’s “plan for Iraq” are as unfair and misleading as Biden’s own attempts to describe Iraq. He does not support partition as such, and I think his support for a scheme that could end up pushing in that direction is more the result of his ignorance and stale mindset than a carefully designed plot to dismember Iraq.

    I have tried to strike a balance on Biden’s plan here:

    BTW, no comments on the non-Iraqi stuff cited above will get published.

  34. JWing said

    Allawi has just as big an ego as Maliki so if you think he would step aside to let Maliki return as PM in return for ministerships, especially after the entire INM campaign after the election is that they are the winners and the only ones who have the right to form a government, than you are deluding yourself.

    Again SLA and INA or SLA and INM are still caught up on THE issue, who is going to be the next premier? Everything else is of secondary importance.

  35. Salah said

    no comments on the non-Iraqi stuff cited above will get published.</i</B.

    How ironic and ruthless statement is.

    You’re a Non_Iraqi you trying to making your name in this world from Iraq, isn't our Non-Iraqi?

    Biedn well know with Iraq Partitioning scenario, its meaningless to defending him taking his side. Not every thing said will be done neither every thing will be done been announced by these ruthless and heartless folk.

    Same as these in US administration or others Non-Iraqis who come telling the war on Iraq and occupying Iraq were “horrible mistake”, this not enough this is hot air nothing will come out from it.

    You have 20 Millions suffering by your folk of Non Iraqi all of you making themselves from tragedy of these millions of people who have done nothing who living on their land for the past 5000 years who taught you how to write and how to read they gave you the first ever code of law.

  36. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, please read the comment more carefully.
    “No comments on the non-Iraqi stuff cited above will get published” in this context simply means “this thread is not about abortions or gay marriage”, i.e. the two “non-Iraqi” subjects enumerated in your initial comment.

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